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Asians On Screen From Yellow Peril To Superhero

 September 22, 2021 at 9:00 AM PDT

Episode 216 Asians on Screen Transcript CLIP Shang Chi Time to show people who I am… what’s your superhero name going to be? Earlier this month Marvel delivered it’s first Asian superhero in the MCU. And perhaps more importantly put an Asian American director at the helm in Destin Cretton. But it’s been a long hard road getting to this point in cinematic history and to take us through that journey I’ve asked Brian Hu, artistic director of the San Diego Asian Film Festival, to be our guide. So get ready to travel from yellow peril and Fu Manchu to Bruce Lee and Shang Chi. Cinema Junkie The Theme bump 1 (drums) Welcome back to another edition of listener supported KPBS Cinema Junkie. I’m Beth Accomando. Cinema Junkie The Theme bump 1 (Horns) On this episode we explore a diverse array of films that take us from Charlie Chan to Chan is Missing to Shang Chi. We’ll also look to the historical context that often led to the stereotypes of Asians we saw onscreen and then revel in the rise of independent Asian American voices in film. And if you think that sounds too academic for you, think again because Brian Hu will surprise you with fascinating insights as well as amazing film recommendations. (:38) Music theme bump out As someone of Asian descent, my grandfather was Chinese, I was thrilled to see Destin Cretton have the opportunity to bring an Asian Superhero to the screen. But I also am fully aware of of the painful stereotypes that often came before like Mickey Rooney’s horrendous Japanese caricature in Breakfast at Tiffany’s… CLIP Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s Ouch! And that was in 1961! Hollywood should have known better. That was the same year the Flower Drum Song signaled a small step forward for Asians in Hollywood. But sometimes Hollywood takes a step backwards before moving forward. Brian and I will look at the best and the worst Hollywood has served up over the decades and play clips from many of the films. But before we begin our journey from Mr. Moto to Bruce Lee, my friend and partner in crime for Film Geeks San Diego, Miguel Rodriguez, has a fittingly Asian obsession for the latest Share Your Addiction. SHARE YOUR ADDICTION Miguel Rodriguez on Dangerous Drugs of Sex I have to second Miguel’s addiction and also give a shout out to FilmOut programmer Michael McQuiggan for screening Dangerous Drugs of Sex. Anyone can program a crowd pleaser but it takes a courageous programmer to push viewers out of their comfort zone. I need to take one quick break and then I’ll be back with Brian Hu to explore the fascinating history of Asians on screen in Hollywood. MIDROLL 1 Welcome back to Cinema Junkie’s exploration of Asians on screen from yellow peril to superhero. Brian Hu has been the artistic director of the San Diego Asian film festival for a decade. He has screened a lot of films by and about Asians and Asian Americans. But earlier this month we saw the release of Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Asian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So this feels like a kind of milestone for Asian representation in Hollywood and I asked Brian if he felt the same. CLIP Shang Chi music BRIAN HU: I could definitely see how, especially if you're a fan of comic book movies and you're Asian American, and this is just something that you've never experienced, right? Like you've been cheering for people who don't look like you. And so for that opportunity to come up, it's empowering for me. Like as somebody who's, I haven't really been waiting my whole life for this moment. It still feels from markable. Right? Like it still feels like this is an opportunity to do something different with the mainstream. Which often we feel like Marvel has run out of ideas, but actually this is an idea that they have yet to try and I'm all for it. Well, I just remember too, when black Panther came out, which gave us it wasn't our first black superhero, but it did feel like this moment where the African-American community in the United States was able to come together around a film that kind of represented them in a different way than they had seen before. BRIAN HU: Yeah. With, with the case like Black Panther, it's not just about representation on the screen anymore. It's about like kids have somebody to dress up as for Halloween. Like, like there are, um, ways that you can like literally refashion oneself as a result of this film and fandom for a comic book. Movie is different than fandom for like an indie film in that way. So that's a different kind of empowering. I mean, it is also about buying merchandise that, that, that supports Disney at the end of the day. But these are fan activities that have never been extended. Like black layer characters and black audiences. And perhaps some, she will do something similarly for Asian audiences and with both black Panther. And with Shang Chi, we also have representation behind the camera. Uh, black Panther used Ryan Coogler to direct it. And now we have Destin Cretton who is a Pacific Islander directing Shang Chi . And does that represent a shift for you as well? BRIAN HU: Absolutely. And I mean, you definitely get the sense that Marvel slash Disney was looking for. They wanted somebody who was Asian behind the camera. And I wonder if they were stuck with this difficulty, like, well, who do we choose? I mean, there are all these folks who come from indie worlds and what kind of skills do we need to do a film like this? And Dustin is such like a unique choice, right? Like he's somebody who doesn't come from action movies. Uh, From, from dramas and smaller films that are about like people's interactions. And I love the idea of giving somebody like him, the chance to extend his craft. So this isn't just, who can we plug in? Who's the best for the job, but also potentially who can grow in to this other kind of outfit. I want to talk a little bit more about Shang Chi, but before we do that, I want to talk a little bit about kind of the context that this film arrives in and the sense of an evolution of how Asians have been depicted on screen in American films, not internationally, but just in American films. And. You know, one thing I think that mainstream white audiences may not appreciate because they see themselves on screen constantly in all sorts of variations. And for people who are Asian or Latino or African-American. Yeah. There is this real sense that they were not seeing themselves on screen for a long time. So just talk a little bit about what that kind of representation means and what the absence of that means for an audience. BRIAN HU: Yeah. I mean, it was so I'm for decades and this extends centuries. If you include other media like literature and theater, which is that Asians in the media, Asians in popular culture in the west is othered, right? Like you're considered exotic or there. Somebody to conquer, like for instance, for some like, um, whites imperialize hero to conquer, or that you you're here to kind of work, help the U S workers through its own anxieties about for instance, immigration or the Asian takeover, especially in like the 19th century, the early 20th century. And then, so you have these figures, villainous figures, like Fu Manchu, to kind of embody all of what we fear about this world that we don't understand. Their inscrutableness is something that's going to ultimately be our downfall. And therefore we need to come up. So, so there's a little bit of that. Um, like the, the vilifying of Asian-ness, but also on the other end, sort of like an attempt to neutralize Asian death threat of the Asian, by for instance, making Asian men seem unthreatening sexually, um, by making Asian women seem conquerable sexually. So, so these are two kinds of stereotypes that we see very much ingrained in American popular culture. Now we had the pleasure of having you introduce a screening know Fu Manchu that we had done here in San Diego. And you talked a little bit about kind of the social and historical context that those films came out. And this was in the 1930s that kind of led to it doesn't justify or, uh, you know, forgive these representations, but it kind of gives you a context that explains why some of these images were popular on screen at that time. BRIAN HU: I mean, they're historically very fascinating. Like it's, I would never want to cancel these films. I think we should watch them to better understand really the minds of mainstream America, rather than like the minds of evil Asian people, which are, are never actually represented on screen because all of these Asian characters are played by by white actors. And so watching it now, it's very clear that this sort of Asian-ness is a puppet. That's being wielded by like a white establishment and by Hollywood. Um, and so, yeah, so watching you, like you get to see, like, what was the anxiety that Americans had about this sort of yellow peril to have the takeover of our, of our jobs, of our, of our women by the mysterious orient. And this was a time, films in the 1930s came long after a lot of Asian immigrants were coming in to help build the railroads, but there was this sense of Asian immigration at the time that was causing anxiety. And there were laws and, and, you know, social issues that were going on at the time that just intensified these anxieties that Americans were feeling.. BRIAN HU: Yeah. Especially if we think about like Chinatowns as a place of like, um, the mysterious Chinatown, which persists even, I mean, certainly through like Polanski's film family, like, like to today, like what happens in Chinatown stays in Chinatown, like, like who, who knows what's happening behind the back of that Chinese restaurant, whether it's like opium, dens or Mahjong parlors or whatever, or prostitution or something. Um, and so you have this mystery of it's and, and one, is it like. We can accept it while it's taking place in Chinatown. But what happens when quote unquote civil society and Chinatown worlds blend into each other. So a fear of, of the. Coming into, uh, into like mainstream Americanness. Uh, so that was happening around this time. And that also was also helping to justify the Chinese exclusion acts, which had been around since the late 19th century. Um, any, uh, during this time, like there were limits on Asian people moving to the United States. Like this was part of like American law to consider Asians as unwanted here in the United States and it's pop culture only to reinforce. So there's this period of kind of Asians being depicted as this yellow peril. And it was the combination of kind of the fear of immigration, but also as we move towards world war two, the Japanese are the enemy, but then there's also these kinds of weird anomalies that pop up because we have something like Charlie Chan, which is not a superhero, but he's meant to be the.You know, brilliant detective all a Sherlock Holmes or something. CHARLIE CHAN CLIP He's not played by an Asian actor, but it's an interesting moment to kind of contradict some of the other stereotypes. BRIAN HU: Yeah, and also Mr. Moto fade by Peter Lorre MR MOTO CLIP This would be the other side that I was talking to. They're only on the one side. There are these attempts to show how Asians are threats to American society. But the other side is to sort of make that threat seem, not that threatening by making these kinds of heroes seem very polite. They provide the, uh, fortune cookie kind of wisdom and solutions to our worlds. CHARLIE CHAN CLIP BRIAN HU: But they don't really have very much in terms of charisma or personality or let alone desire, um, which we expect our heroes to have. I mean, think about like, like the Indiana Jones type, right? Like you, you, you exude a certain kind of charm and you get the girl as opposed to, you know, you're just sitting here, um, very politely solving crimes like that, that, that has a certain charm to, but it's also an exotic charm. You would never extend that to somebody who's not interested. Sam spade would never solve a crime politely. No, he would do it with such such meanness and we would love him for it. Um, but th but for an Asian character to be like, that would seem like a threat too far. And then you brought up a little bit of, kind of the sexuality of Asian characters, and we have this combination of there's either. Kind of evil femme fatale type that actually the wholesome Myrna Loy used to play for awhile. FU MANCHU CLIP Um, but you also have these kind of like South Sea romances where somebody like Dorothy Lemoore played this kind of exotic beauty LAMOUR CLIP that also falls into this weird category of not quite being negative, but definitely falling into stereotypes and kind of not giving a multidimensionality to those characters. Yeah. So, I mean, geopolitics is a part of this too. I mean, this is the era where Hawaii is annexed and. Brought up for potential statehood. I mean, you think about like in the United States, if you're in the mainland or you're part of you is like, wait, why are we including Hawaii? Now, the studios were making a case and popular culture was making case that we love Hawaii and we love the south seas and we had a lot like military out there. SOUTH SEAS CLIP So to justify that we have to make us seem like the Pacific Islanders loved us being there. And like they were our friends. And I mean, very similar way in which like the myth of Thanksgiving has made it seem like native Americans, welcomed Europeans with open arms, these kinds of south sea adventures and romances and musicals are doing much of the same thing to make it seem like, Hey, these are just smiling natives waiting for us to. Romance them to park their ships in our, in our peers. Uh, and we can all like sing and eat food together. Now, do you see any kind of turning points along the way in Hollywood where you felt like there were moments where things progressed and you know, it could be from earlier decades or later decades, but do you see any moments where you go like. Thank goodness that finally happened, or yes, that broke the mold, uh, where you feel like there, the signposts leading to potential change. BRIAN HU: Yeah. I mean, there were a lot, you know, even the silent days, a star, like with Haleakala, forming his own production studio saying like, you know what, I'm going to do things my way, but really for me, the interesting benchmark point would be flower drum song. FLOWER DRUM SONG CLIP This is a musical. Like, you know, Rogers and Hammerstein coming off the heels of all, all these like successful other musicals, like sound of music and king and I, and often these were kind of exotic musicals like that. They were taking place in far off places, even Oklahoma, to some sense to this thing that it's like, Oklahoma is its own country or something, but like throw you into another place and flower drum song that place happened to be Chinatown. There could be fear that this was going to be. You know, another problematic depiction of Chinatown, but it did a few things, right. Um, one is they adapted it from a novel written by a Chinese American, um, by CYI the lights. And so automatically you had a perspective of the different kinds of characters in Chinatown beyond just the usual stereotypes. FLOWER DRUM SONG CLIP Um, so you had a whole family and everyone, and all the family members sort of had their own desires. And, uh, and I mean, there's a standard, like a tension between being traditional and being modern. So some of that was like overly familiar, but I'm always thinking about like the scene where these like young, Asian Americans are just dancing in their like baseball uniform. FLOWER DRUM SONG CLIP Something about it. That just feels that kind of all American in a way that these depictions had not allowed for before. So all American. Yeah, it was still also like an all Asian cast and very coded as Asian. But to me, this was, this was a crack in what seemed to be impenetrable. COLD TURKEY Ryan Bradford MIDROLL 2 And we are back BRUCE LEE TRAILER CLIP And were there any other kinds of heroes that popped up along the way, even if they might've been supporting characters in a film where, you know, the lead was white, but did you see some moments where yeah, they're making a little bit of progress. Is it too early to talk about Bruce Lee? BRUCE LEE TRAILER CLIP For me, Bruce Lee is, is that right? Um, I mean, like he's not a supporting character either. He's the star. He is, you can't take your eyes off him. BRUCE LEE TRAILER CLIP If there are supporting characters in the movie, you may not even notice, like when he's on the screen and he's doing his thing, Bruce Lee comes with an asterisk in that his films are not set in the United States. Um, they're actually set all over the world. Right. You have like Thailand and Italy. Um, well, like he becomes a hero to Asian-Americans. Yeah. Oppress people everywhere because his films are often about fighting against power. Um, he, uh, and so even though he doesn't satisfy as an Asian American character on the screen in the way that like the characters and flower drum song do, and then later, later films might, but suddenly you had quite clearly the hero on the screen. And Bruce Lee was like as powerful, a like super heroic kind of cinematic figure as like a James Bond or something. Um, at the time. And the fact that everybody noticed it, wasn't like just the Asian American community saying, Hey, like, like one of ours is on the screen. Cause Bruce Lee was born in the United States, spent a lot of his formative years, um, kind of between Hong Kong and the United States. This was probably the first taste of real Asian-American superstar. If you might call it that in the, um, kind of sound era of, of film history. BRUCE LEE AUDITION CLIP Well, and he's an interesting case too, because he's someone whose stardom was kind of important. From Hong Kong. I mean, he didn't get to make his first big splash on the screen through a Hollywood studio going like, oh, you'd be a great action hero. He had to kind of prove himself somewhere else and get re imported. And then his films were dubbed into English and marketed to an American audience. So it's this interesting case of kind of like I have to go away to come back and prove myself a non-screen hero in the United States. Yeah. So, so maybe it is worth thinking about like what his Hollywood career was like before he went to Hong Kong, because it's exactly what you were saying before. Like he was a supporting character. Like he was not the green Hornet. He was Cato. KATO CLIP And so his, his Hong Kong trajectory then perhaps Marxism as like, as an anomaly, like which Asian American stars get to go back to Hong Kong and have a career in the comeback, at least in this period. Um, he happened to have connections in Hong. And, uh, he was, uh, he was actually a child star in Hong Kong for a few years, too. So that helps. And, and it just happened to be the, at that time, Hong Kong needed a star like Bruce Lee it's own like martial arts, like PR like factory system, um, was just taking off because of Shaw brothers and, and Bruce Lee became such a great addition to the competition for like innovation in martial arts. So everything just happened perfectly. That allowed that to happen. And he happened to come back to United States at the time. And Hollywood was like, all right, we need to change our formula too, because we're not doing that well. So the rights environment allowed somebody to break from decades of stereotypes. Um, so as an anomaly, it's sort of like, is this replicable, um, and maybe that's why it's taken us so long for us to find another book. And Bruce Lee was unique and he became this very heroic action hero that we saw. But then you have somebody like to share him a phony who gained his stardom in Japan, working with a character of , but he came over to the United States and made a number of films. MIFUNE CLIP And if he didn't become like really. Huge star. I feel like he was sort of this point of creating sympathetic Asian characters on screen and just starting to get some dimensionality, still stereotype, but at least like every now and then you got a little hint because he was such a great actor that it started to create these more sympathetic Asian representations on screen through Hollywood movies. This is definitely a case where to share my phony had a secret weapon. And that was a CURO core Sala. If you are being directed by one of the great directors in the history of cinema, who knows how to bring out the character in you, but also like the charisma and that sort of kind like macho charisma can be sometimes even a tortured mass masculinity that you're just groomed to know how to act. Like, if you like all these Asian American stars trick, trying to make it in the 1940s and fifties and sixties, if all you're playing are sidekicks. And like, if you're, if you're playing the help, but how often are you getting opportunities to really stretch your acting ability? So, so, so these actors who come from Asia. They've developed they've they they're in all kinds of genres, they get to play leads, they've play supporting characters. They know how to act as a result. They've gotten the opportunity. And so it shouldn't be surprising that it's someone from Asia who's able to come to United States and then have that kind of multi-dimensional. And do you see the changes that started to come in Hollywood? Was that coming kind of internally from Hollywood or does it eventually come from independent films? I know we're making a leap in time here, but to more independent films like Wayne Wing's Chan is missing CHAN IS MISSING CLIP where you're kind of finding success out of the mainstream of Hollywood and Hollywood going like, whoops, wait a minute. Maybe we can make some money off it. Well, yeah, so, I mean, it helps the case that Hollywood was struggling. Um, at least like this is the end of the studio era. They back then they could just do whatever they want. Right? Like they own the stars. Basically they own the theaters. Um, they could take chances or, or not take chances and succeed either way, but by the 1970s and early eighties, China's missing audiences are also realizing, okay, there there's competition to Hollywood. Um, and, and so out of that circuit comes a new batch of filmmakers who will kind of like I'm going to do things our way. And of course, this is also a time of counter-culture. And so you have audiences who are just a little hungrier for something that is an alternative to being square and just watching Hollywood films all the time. Um, so yeah, so there's something in the industry itself that will. Allowing for this new movement. And this new movement was it's tied to like the rise of film schools, the rise of, um, independent media collectives and, or maybe sometimes informal collectives that were happening in places like New York city in San Francisco and LA, where you, if you have like a, an alternative way of making movies, you can find like-minded people and get together and make it on your own. Also the rise of cheaper and lighter filmmaking equipment, that's allowing for independent films to be made. And so in that kind of moment, a director like Wayne, Wayne can come out and say, you know what? I kind of want to speak to the Hollywood stereotypes, including the Charlie Chan films. I mean, this film is called Chan is missing. CHAN IS MISSING CLIP Um, I think in saying like, you know, we grew up with a certain image of it. Yeah. On the screen. It's our turn now. And now that we have the technology, the ability to do this, um, let's see where we can. Well, we can do that. They never could have done. TOKYO DRIFT CLIP And does someone like him moving into the Hollywood system with something like joy luck club or you've got a Justin Lin moving into the Hollywood system with a fast and furious series. Is it their independent success? Do you think that makes them attractive to Hollywood and allows them kind of this entry? BRIAN HU: Yeah, totally. I mean like if Hollywood says long, had certain barriers to entry for people who don't historically look like they make Hollywood movies, they're not going to get a chance, but the independent circuit has allows them with its own sort of institutions like awards and film festivals that can crown certain people with new kinds of indie darlings, and Hollywood is gonna be. And not all of them will get a chance to make a commercial film, but sometimes they'll get a chance and sometimes they'll be really good at it. Um, and then suddenly, so, so it's, it's a foot in the door in the world as a potential foot in the door. I mean, there's plenty of indie filmmakers who don't want to go in Hollywood no matter what and more power to them, but, but yeah, the indie world has allowed for this. And I think Dustin Cretan with short term 12 is also another example. And then what do you think the role of foreign directors, Asian directors, you know, from outside of the U S coming to the U S and making Hollywood films, people, most notably someone like an Ong Lee, how do they impact kind of the representation of Asians? Do you think they bring something to Hollywood that allows for a different perspective? BRIAN HU: Yeah, well, I mean, Ang Lee is an interesting example because like when he was starting out, like in the eighties and early nineties, I mean, he was a struggling independent filmmaker, like anybody else, like in New York city, but because of his Asia tie specifically to Taiwan, he was able to get funding from Taiwan. And that's something that like Asian American directors might not have access to and knows the language. He knows he has those kinds of connections. And these are the studios in Taiwan that were like, that made the films that he grew up watching. So he, he knew about. Um, and, and I mean, it helps that like he wants to NYU, so the Taiwan government's like, oh no, maybe we'll we'll invest in you. Um, and, and so they have that extra kind of advantage that a Asian person kind of born and raised in United States check toiling as like second class in the system would not have access to almost think of someone like Mira Nair, who. Comes from India and her first film, like Salaam Bombay is an Indian film. And then after the success of that, she is able to make Asian-American films like Mississippi masala. So, yeah, so the Asia side is extra kind of push and think about it. Like if Asian cinema already has a certain cache on the international film festival circuit, because of decades of directors like Akira Kurosawa, and started to Ray that if your films resembled those films, you may also have a certain advantage in getting noticed. Yeah. Mira Nair and Ang Lee immediately got noticed winning, like winning the Berlin film festival, for instance, at that time, like Asian American director, I'm thinking about like, how can I do that? Like, like, it's, it may have seemed a little bit more strange or like there's less of a precedent at least. And so maybe some ways like these directors from Asia who are bridging the line between Asian and Asian-American cinema, they became the precedent for later directors like destined Cretan and Justin Lin. And at this point in time, what do you see as kind of. What gives you the most hope about representations of Asians on screen in Hollywood films and where are kind of your greatest concerns? BRIAN HU: Yeah. I mean, like I've seen this happens through multiple cycles at this point, right? Like, like moments where you're like, oh, I think this is going to be the turning point. And then it was just like, oh wait, joy luck club was just going to be the one. Um, we're not going to have another joy luck club. And so I've become a little bit and, and like better luck tomorrow by Justin Lin was another example of that. Like, wow, is this the moment where all changes? And then you realize, no, all those actors in better luck tomorrow. They're not getting roles. Um, and so I've become a little bit jaded about these sort of turning points, but I guess I am, I have to admit that things are better and largely it's because of the larger pressure that's being put on Hollywood, not just by Asian-Americans, but by African-American audiences and critics. Um, Latino critics, queer critics were saying like, w what's going on with representation. So. Asian-Americans have benefited from this larger movement. That's beyond just the Asian-American community for representation. And because of that larger movement, all you would has had to have, they've had an internal record and they all know we, we need to cast more Asian folks in our Hollywood films. And perhaps once in awhile, we'll allow them to make a movie as well. Or if you are a big franchise, like, like the Marvel cinematic universe. I mean, maybe we should have an opportunity for, for Asian people. So maybe this wasn't going to be a thing in previous incarnations or less of a thing that might actually be changed. Right. And especially on the streaming networks on, on Hulu, on, on Netflix, you are seeing shows that are being run by Asian Americans and are about Asian Americans. I did not see that before. Um, so I have to admit that that's a turning point. The problem is, is this just going to be another case of like the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals this year, it's going to be south Pacific next year. It's going to be the, the Swiss Alps. Um, the next year is gonna be Oklahoma. Is it going to be like that for Marvel? I I'm still holding on it's a little bit of cynicism, but another kind of, um, fear I have then is what's going to happen to the independence. Because in the past, all of these Asian American filmmakers were, were, they knew they didn't really have a route in Hollywood or does it mean really rare? It's going to be hard to have a career in that. And therefore, if you really wanted to express yourself, the independent world was going to be your, your place and you get to show your films. On your own terms to your own communities and you sort of lose that when you move into Disney world. Um, and so are we going to lose the independent side if there are indeed so many more opportunities, especially with streaming, like to me that would not be a good development. Well, that kind of brings us back to Shang Chi and one of the things that I really enjoyed about it, and I think this is partially coming from Destin’s ability to work on the indie scene and also to often give us very nice character relationships. But the main thing I liked was the relationship between the two main characters that just seemed so natural and enjoyable and Awkwafina. Such a unique choice for what is essentially the romantic lead of the story. And I found that aspect of this to be really refreshing. Um, oh boy, I totally agree. Like those scenes are my, by far my favorite scenes in the film. And I love that like, Awkwafina is sort of the romantically, BRIAN HU: but sort of not like, like it's not very clear from the beginning. Like, are they just friends because in those moments I'm thinking like, how have we ever seen. Asian American Asian American manager make woman as friends in a Hollywood movie before that they just like, they go to work together. They hang out each other's houses. I don't know if I've ever seen that in a mainstream film and that I did not see that coming. And it was so refreshing to see. Partly because they're so good at it. And you mentioned Destin, right? Like he, he knows how to, to, to stage scenes like that. And you have these two actors, like ones from Kim's convenience, seeming Lu Aquafina is kind of, I mean, she's from her own universe. Um, but yeah. Th th fit like they it's. So it comes, it feels like it comes so naturally to them. You don't feel the decades of this has never worked in the past or can this actually be possible? You just feel like this has always been possible because Asian Americans have always been friends with each other. Um, male men and women have been friends with each other in the past. Uh, so, so refreshing to see. And like when there are these like, moments of like, Hmm, can they be together? It's sort of like what Asian Americans don't get that like Ross and Rachel moment of like friends can, can friends also have been in a relationship like it, it was just so, so nice to see, and it reminded me of people I could have grown up. Now because you have this wealth of knowledge about films. I wanted to ask you, if you might suggest a list of films for people to watch and to give a context to shonky, but not in the sense of, oh, here are the Marvel films. You need to see, to understand where the superhero comes from, but more, a sense of seeing the development of Asian images on screen that lead us to this point. BRIAN HU: Yeah. So weirdly enough, like when I was watching those scenes, San Francisco, between Aquafina and seamless character, I immediately thought of the film surrogate Valentine and surrogate Valentine is a trilogy of films directed by Dave Boyle and linchpin. They start go knock a Maura who was just like this down on his luck musician in California. And it's his relationships. Friends and like potential lovers. And the film has just like a nice rapport of Asian Americans who, and the way they talk, like certain cadence to it and it charm, and maybe charisma is going too far. Cause he's supposed to play kind of a Adobe character. Exudes life. And in those moments in Shanghai, that seemed to be happening. Like I thought of that film. And so if anybody who was like, I want to see more Asian Americans hanging out there, the surrogate Valentine trilogy, I would highly recommend obviously like Sean, she's not the first Asian American superhero movie. And it reminds me of like this other kind of like, I'm not saying, I'm not saying a strong chief founded like these movies. Um, Did, uh, Patricia can, Elsa who made a film back in the early two thousands called Lucy? And it's about like high school kids who, you know, have to have bullies and they imagine the possibility of them being their own superhero selves. And they're thinking about it, like they're Filipino and they're thinking about like, well, what would we fight with? And they have this whole running gag, like a Limpia fighters and stuff like that. And as low budget movie, as you can imagine, uh, and that's totally where the charm is and like just very rudimentary, special effects. Well, those filmmakers actually came back last year with a film called, um, lumpia with a vengeance war, special effects now, but still that kind of low budget charm. And we're at the desire to be super this desire to like transcend the world that you live in, which is not always great. Like it from beginning to end, you get a sense of that aspiration and why it's so charming and why you want a roof. So, yeah, these films don't deliver the splash of a Marvel film, but how can any independent filmmakers. W with that kind of like visual dazzle. And so in the absence of that, like, um, I find the heart of it though. There's the heart of the superhero movies still exist elsewhere. So the independent realm, isn't just, you know, like arty movies. It's also these kind of low budget movies that are wondering if I had the luck of a destined Cretan and had a chance to, because maybe w what might it look like? Uh, so I would encourage, um, people to, to check out those movies. All right. I want to thank you very much for talking about Asian representation on screen. BRIAN HU: Thank you as always. That wraps up another edition of KPBS listener supported Cinema Junkie. I urge you to check out the companion podcast on this month’s theme of Asians onscreen where I speak with Shang Chi director Destin Cretton. Not only does he discuss the making of Shang Chi but he provides amazing insights into how a filmmaker can challenge himself as an artist. And remember to check out Cinema Junkie presents Geeky Gourmet where I show you how to make food themed to each podcast. The videos are available on the KPBS You Tube Channel. Once again, I’d like to acknowledge the talented folks who make Cinema Junkie happen: podcast coordinator Kinsee Morlan, technical director Rebecca Chacon, and director of sound design Emily Jankowski. Coming up next, the theme is spies. From the cold war world of John Le Carre to the latest installment in the impressively successful James Bond Franchise. CLIP Bond theme Till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando your resident Cinema Junkie.

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Bruce Lee brought a new, cool, powerful image of Asians to the screen with a series of martial arts action films like "Enter the Dragon."
Warner Brothers
Bruce Lee brought a new, cool, powerful image of Asians to the screen with a series of martial arts action films like "Enter the Dragon."
Earlier this month Marvel delivered its first Asian superhero in its cinematic universe with "Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings." But it’s been a long hard road getting to this point in Hollywood. For the latest episode of Cinema Junkie, I speak with Brian Hu, artistic director of the San Diego Asian Film Festival, about the evolution of Asian images on screen from the stereotypes of yellow peril to Shang Chi.

"Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" gives audiences not just an Asian superhero but a major Hollywood release with a largely Asian cast and an Asian director.

RELATED "Shang Chi" director Destin Cretton

But it has been a long journey to reach this point and there is still a long way to go.

Pacific Arts Movement artistic director Brian Hu takes us on a tour through early negative stereotypes of Fu Manchu to characters like Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto to the breakthrough stardom of Bruce Lee and finally to "Shang Chi."

REALATED Examining the racial stereotypes of 1932's 'Mask of Fu Manchu'

I'll play lots of clips and Hu offers some exciting film recommendations to check out. Plus enjoy the decidedly eccentric rants and raves of Awkward San Diego's Ryan Bradford and Horrible Imaginings' Miguel Rodriguez on the latest Cold Turkey and Share Your Addiction.

And check out the latest Geeky Gourmet video where I'll show you how to make Asian treats to eat with the films we discuss.

Geeky Gourmet: Shang-Chi Treats

I’d like to acknowledge the talented folks who make Cinema Junkie happen: podcast coordinator Kinsee Morlan, technical director Rebecca Chacon, and director of sound design Emily Jankowski.